This trio of very different kitchens embraces the organic texture of the forest, enduring concrete calm and the bakers’ bustle
There’s one constant linking the wildly diverse kitchens in the following pages. Whether a tranquil homage to concrete, a tactile celebration of the forest, or an ultra-flexible space for a keen baker, all are designed to be much more than simply places to prepare and eat food. They are all very much the social heart of the house, doubling variously as places for working, entertaining and events. But that’s not to say the vital practicalities of kitchen design are neglected, with these three including optimum layouts, a craftily concealed extractor fan and an elegant ‘appliance garage’.
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Forest House, Highams Park, London
Nearby Epping Forest was the inspiration for the joyfully quirky kitchen of Forest House, the home of AOC directors Gill Lambert and Geoff Shearcroft.
And with its cork tiles, willow cladding and douglas fir, there are certainly no shortages of arboreal references as part of the highly colourful, layered and tactile composition.
The duo was aiming for ‘the spatial generosity and experiential joy’ that they encounter in the family’s regular trips to the forest. This was achieved not just through materiality but by prioritising volume through the creation of a triple-height kitchen ‘as tall as a tree’. This forms part of a side and rear extension enabled by the removal of the side garage, with a dining space accommodated at the rear of the kitchen alongside the garden. The kitchen is overlooked by a mezzanine space, its rather startling balustrade clad in highly textured cork bark tiles.
‘We wanted it to be a social space – really good for a party,’ says Lambert, adding that the lofty new volume offered different proportions to those elsewhere in the Victorian house.
There’s a lot of materiality going on from the fabric alone. The house’s original sidewall becomes an internal kitchen wall, with its London stock brick left exposed. In contrast, the new sidewall is in raw blockwork with white mortar, the two materials linked by the cork. Joining the party is the blue-painted supporting steelwork, which multi-tasks as a magnetic surface and family measuring chart, with douglas fir rafters above.
Several key furniture elements have been inserted as part of the kitchen fit-out. Beneath the balustrade is the sink and a run of stainless-steel topped cupboards terminating in a curved dresser-like form at one end and bookended at the other by the fridge. In between, a mirrored panel reflects the garden with a second reflective surface – a mirrorball – adding to the fun nearby.
Lambert made the terrazzo-topped island unit workbench with a friend from Harbour Joinery Workshop, contouring it to accommodate the steel and incorporating an extra log ‘leg’ to hide the conduits. Both workbench and dresser are painted a vivid green. Above the fridge, a pink-painted wine rack makes good use of a narrow slot between the appliance and the bowed balustrade, together creating what the architects think of as a benign totem form.
Bespoke elements are balanced with affordable items and second hand finds, while the island’s terrazzo off-cuts top a side run of cupboards. A chimney was widened to fit in a stove, while shelving accommodates books and records. The dining area leads to the garden, where the extension is clad in a rainscreen cladding of woven coppiced hazel.
The family are enjoying finding new ways to use their collage-like kitchen, especially using the mezzanine balcony as a DJ stage at a recent party.
Structural engineer Hockaday
Main contractor BWP
Artemide (Teti wall lamp in mirror)
Cavendish Equipment (steel worktop)
Harbour Joinery Workshop (kitchen dresser unit)
Flos (Jasper Morrison lights in the beam)
Siesta Cork Tiles (wall tiles)
Smiles Glass (large mirror)
Concrete Plinth House, Hackney, London
DGN Studio channelled its clients’ love of concrete to create a tranquil, serene kitchen with a sense of permanence. The project, appropriately named Concrete Plinth House, extends and redesigns the previously dark, low-ceilinged kitchen as part of a broader revitalisation of a neglected Victorian semi-detached house in London’s Hackney.
‘Every detail was designed to create this very calm environment,’ says Daniel Goodacre, co-founder of DGN Studio.
The clients wanted a bright, spacious room not only for cooking but for socialising and hosting arts events. The big design move was to lower the floor by half a metre in addition to a 3m rear extension and side infill, giving the room the proportions it needed to become the main gathering area of the house. Concrete is used for the new kitchen base tray, which forms a half metre datum upstand. Three concrete columns rise from this to support a T-shaped steel supporting the floor above, with a European oak wall and ceiling structure. New roof lights and side sash windows increase the natural daylighting.
The concrete is exposed and celebrated both internally and externally, with further extensive use inside (steps, floors, surfaces) adding a material harmony conducive to the tranquil vibe.
‘We haven’t been wilful about the use of concrete, but have tried to think about where it could have value and be practical,’ says Goodacre.
Perhaps the most striking element is the 1400mm by 2400mm concrete counter top for the island unit, cast in situ by contractor Orsman Contractor and mounted on a bespoke MDF unit sprayed in a contrasting Farrow and Ball dark blue. The 75mm counter thickness presented a challenge for the tap installation, but thanks to the contractor was not insurmountable. While red wine tests on the sealed surface were favourable, its use as a counter top will, say the architects, inevitably require an element of care.
‘Hopefully it’ll age nicely. If it does pick up some marks, it’s part of its story,’ says Goodacre.
A practical counterpoint to the more expressive island unit is provided along the far wall, where the kitchen run has a stainless steel counter top with another sink and a hob. Plywood panelling disguises the extractor fan, while the wall has a micro-cement render.
A long cast concrete bench provides additional seating capacity and – like the island unit – has a top surface ground back to reveal the concrete aggregate.
To avoid visual clutter, there are no cupboards above the counters, instead, tall appliance and storage cupboards in oak-veneered MDF are grouped at the front of the kitchen, treated with white oil to tie in more with the concrete tones.
The result is a pared-down canvas, says DGN Studio co-founder Geraldine Ng, a serene backdrop to be animated by the daily life of the clients.
Architect DGN Studio
Contractor Orsman Contractor
E Squared (joinery)
Plaster Collective (micro cement)
Rubio Monocoat (wood protection)
Steyson Granolithic Contractors (concrete floor)
Queen’s Wood, Highgate, London
This asymmetric rear extension in Highgate provided a way of reorientating views from the 1920s house towards the nearby Queen’s Wood while creating a multi-tasking kitchen tailored to a family of keen bakers.
Extension architect Mulroy Architects collaborated from early on with the client’s kitchen architect Johnny Grey Studios and it was this, says Andrew Mulroy, that really made the project ‘sing’. All were keen to avoid an island unit that acted as a barrier between the cooking and social areas. This enabled the optimum positioning of the island and other key elements in the kitchen footprint to be established upfront in order to create a space where the family could, says Andrew Mulroy, ‘work and cook and bake and socialise’.
The 4.4m-long island aligns with the pointed form of the diagonal extension, which presents a glazed prow into the garden. To the right are walk-in storage areas and more food preparation areas, with the dining area to the left.
‘You should be looking into the room when you’re doing the key cooking functions,’ says Grey, who trained at the Architectural Association before specialising in kitchen design.
The central island enables just this. It combines several elements. In the middle is the plain white Corian-topped cooking area with a drum shaped prep sink, hob and preparation space. This sits on a copper finished rectangular pedestal housing pan drawers and underlighting. At each counter end, the unit is shaped to accommodate a nestling, bespoke circular table, the one nearest the garden primarily for social use, the other for food preparation with an area of beech end grain wood. Adjustable heights mean both maple tables can be positioned for different tasks or seating requirements. Above is a long lighting gantry, its alignment further accentuating the orientation of the extension.
‘It gives a sense of defining the culinary zone as a bit of its own area, like a virtual room,’ says Grey, who was also the kitchen contractor.
While the island steals the show, the eye is also drawn behind to the run of kitchen units including a sink and a dishwasher raised for easy access and topped with a Caesarstone quartz-inspired concrete counter. To the left, is a curved display platform, perhaps for fresh loaves. Here (and to the right) Grey has incorporated a medley of woods into floor and wall cupboards including American cherry, Canadian maple and masur birch as well as more copper finishing. These are teamed with the sinuous flowing design of Alex Zdankowicz’s artisan wall tiling. Behind are the walk-in annexes, including a bread pantry and storage pantry. The wall shelving includes ‘appliance garages’ with pull-down aluminium roller shutters to screen off the equipment if desired.
The extension architect designed window seats below the prow and a small table overlooking the garden with adjacent built in shelving. This European oak joinery was created in harmony with the Johnny Grey kitchen, with wide timber board flooring used throughout.
Architect Mulroy Architects
Kitchen architect Johnny Grey Studios
Corian (island worktop)
John Cullen (lighting design)
Alex Zdankowicz (artisan tiles)